Azarenka to conquer in New York
Our Andy Schooler is opposing odds-on US Open favourite Serena Williams by siding with Victoria Azarenka.
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Barring something very odd happening, Serena Williams will go off as the odds-on favourite for a Grand Slam for the fourth time this year when the US Open gets under way on Monday.
Yet the defending champion has failed to deliver in two of the previous three majors this season, suffering shock defeats in both Australia and at Wimbledon, letting down legions of backers.
- 4pts Victoria Azarenka to win at 7/2 (General) - has beaten Williams in last two hardcourt meetings; should be shorter
- 1pt Sorana Cirstea to win the second quarter at 20/1 (bet365, Ladbrokes) - arrives in good form; favourite worth opposing
- 1pt Roberta Vinci to win the third quarter at 10/1 (Coral) - last year's quarter-finalist can go a step further in weakest section of the draw
I'm certainly wary of getting involved and can't really see why there is such a price discrepancy between the world number one and the player immediately below her in the rankings, Victoria Azarenka.
Williams is at 4/5 but Azarenka can be backed at 7/2. Surely the latter price holds greater value.
For a start, Azarenka beat Williams only last weekend to win the title in Cincinnati. The match was very tight - the Belarusian winning 8-6 in a final-set tie-break - but she got the job done.
It was her second successive victory over Williams on a hardcourt, having also beaten her in Doha earlier in the season.
The hardcourts are Azarenka's domain. Her last three Grand Slams on the surface have brought results of W, RU, W.
It could easily have been three in a row, for Azarenka served for last year's title only for Williams to eventually prevail in another nail-biter.
More recent form is just as impressive. This season, Azarenka's record on the surface is won 25, lost one - and the sole defeat came in a week when she was still feeling her way back from an injury picked up at Wimbledon.
There's an argument that the value in her price has gone. She was 13/2 for the Open during Sunday's final in Cincinnati and is now 7/2, a price change affected by Maria Sharapova's withdrawal as well as punters coming in to back the eventual Ohio victor.
However, with Williams having proved vulnerable to the shock result, I still feel that 7/2 is more than fair in what the bookies have as virtually a two-horse race. It's 20/1 bar the top two seeds. It's already just 6/5 that the pair meet in the final.
For those seeking a longer price, it may pay to head to the quarter markets where the second and third sections (those without the big two) have potential for a big-priced winner.
In the second quarter, Agnieszka Radwanska is the favourite and rightly so but at 2/1 she looks worth taking on.
Sorana Cirstea is a player who could make waves in this section at a tasty 20/1. She's a single-figure price with some layers.
The Romanian recently made a surprise run to the final in Toronto where some of the scalps she claimed were very impressive.
Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kvitova and Li Na were all dispatched before Serena Williams proved too good in the final.
While it was a career-best run it was hardly out of the blue. Cirstea made the semis in Stanford a few weeks prior, beat Angelique Kerber in Miami and pushed Radwanska all the way to 6-4 in the third in Indian Wells.
Jankovic and Li could both lie in Cirstea's path in New York but buoyed by the confidence of her recent results against them, the Romanian is worth a punt at the price.
In the third quarter, I'm going to go with Italian Roberta Vinci at 10/1.
Caroline Wozniacki is the 5/2 favourite in the market but I can't be having that.
Yes, her best results continue to come on a hardcourt but she's thrown in some real shockers at times with defeats to Garbine Muguruza and Qiang Wang on the surface this season.
She could play Vinci - a player who has beaten the Dane on the North American hardcourts in her prime - in the last 16 and that would be a real test for Wozniacki.
Vinci has made the quarter-finals of the big hardcourt events in Miami and Cincinnati this season, beating Kerber, Sam Stosur and Sara Errani in the process.
That's the sort of form that could win this quarter and at 10/1 I'm prepared to take another chance to small stakes about a player who made the last eight in New York last season.
Others worth of respect in this section are Errani - a semi-finalist from a similarly weak quarter 12 months ago - and Simona Halep, who has been in fine form in recent weeks.
However, the pair could meet in the last 16 which makes picking between them a tough choice. Given Vinci is almost twice the price, I'm happy with my choice.
- The action gets under way at 1600 BST on Monday and is being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports and British Eurosport.